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After 44 years, Afton Preschool to close

Afton Preschool, located in the basement of Memorial Lutheran Church, will close at the end of the school year after 44 years in existence because of a decreasing student population.

Afton Preschool has been a significant part of the Afton community since it opened in 1968.

"It's been a very community-minded school," said preschool director Cindy Mezler.

However, it will soon be the end of an era for the preschool, housed in the basement of Memorial Lutheran Church in Afton, when it closes at the end of the school year.

Mezler said she came to the decision to close the preschool because the student population isn't what it once was.

Previously Afton Preschool used to field two classes of 20 students. Now the school only has one with 16 students.

"There's just not as many kids," Mezler said.

Mezler made the announcement on April 26.

A long time coming

When Afton Preschool opened in 1968, as a parent cooperative, it had the mission of teaching children the basic skills to prepare its 3- and 4-year-old students for kindergarten.

A typical day's schedule includes group circle activity, small group writing and art projects, choice time, a snack, music and a story.

"We have a real variety of curriculum," Mezler said, "so hopefully they're ready for kindergarten."

Afton Preschool employs one full time teacher and Mezler acts as an assistant teacher, in addition to director.

It was four years ago that Afton Preschool's population first began to dwindle, thus forcing the school to combine both its 3-year-old and 4-year-old classes and move to a three-day schedule.

"It's something I've seen coming for a long time," Mezler said. "I think the biggest problem is that the population out here is aging - there just aren't as many kids.

"Eventually it will turn around and there will be kids again, but right now we just don't have the population we need to keep this place going."

Mezler also said Afton's stagnant housing market also contributed to the declining student population.

"It's nice to have one-on-one time in class but it loses some of what we're trying to do here," Mezler said. "It was just a matter of time."

Mezler said her decision had nothing to do with money.

Moving forward

When Mezler informed parents that Afton Preschool was going to be closing, she said she was greeted with sadness, but also understanding.

"The families know the struggle. They know we've done what was best," she said. "They've told me we can't look back, but move forward."

Mezler said there is essentially no hope of saving Afton Preschool, even with monetary donations. What the school really needs is more students - at least 10 to 15 more.

"Any money we would get right now would just put off the inevitable," she said.

Afton Preschool's families won't be completely without options though, Mezler said. There are several other preschool options nearby including the St. Croix Montessori preschool in Stillwater, the Rainbow Christian Preschool in Lakeland and the many offerings in Woodbury.

Mezler said she will miss the preschool families most.

"Ninety percent of the people I know I've met through the preschool," she said.

Currently Memorial Lutheran Church has no plans for the preschool space.

"It's going to be a big loss to the community I think," Mezler said. "But, we have to be OK with our decision - it's been something that we've seen coming and it's finally here.

"As much as I hate to say it, I think it's a good decision for us -we're going out on a high note."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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